How a change of provider boosted subscription rates to our releases

Last summer, we decided to try our hand at converting our RSS feeds into email alerts. The idea was to inform users when statistics they may be interested in were released, by using 12 customised RSS feeds – one for each theme and one for all our releases. We looked at the options and decided to use Mailchimp, as it was straightforward as a service and because it allowed us to develop a ‘proof of concept’ and gauge interest from our users at a relatively low cost.

However we had some problems in trying to promote this service to our users. We started with a link from our homepage and extended this over time to include a link from our footer and theme pages when these were redeveloped. Even so, a significant amount of our subscribers came through social media, with a noticeable peak in sign-up every time we promoted the service there. This convinced us this was a worthwhile service to offer and that the interest from many of our users was there – we just needed to reach them.

About six months after implementing the alerts, we met with GovDelivery, as we now felt we were in a better position with the ONS website to exploit what they had to offer. GovDelivery work with government organisations in the UK and USA to improve communication and increase customer reach, through its bulletin/newsletter and networking opportunities. The evidence provided by them was impressive – looking at statistics from other organisations that use the service – so a 6 month trial was organised.

The process was running nice and smoothly until we hit a major stumbling block – our RSS feeds. Despite working in Mailchimp, the feeds weren’t validating as they should on the GovDelivery system. A fix was developed for this and GovDelivery put a temporary workaround in place for us until our next window to put the change live at the end of July, which should resolve the issue.

With the workaround now in place, the system was tested amongst colleagues in Digital Publishing for days on end until we were confident the system was doing what it should. When this was completed, the current subscriber list had to be uploaded to the new system, new links placed on the website to direct visitors to the new subscription screen … then off we went on 6 June at 10.30am, with the network section being in place by 3pm that day. To sit and watch the numbers increasing was impressive – although anybody within earshot probably got fed up of constant number shouting from the web analytics team as things increased.

Following the introduction of GovDelivery, the ONS is also reaping the benefits of the networking opportunities, with 80% of new customers coming via the Network, in particular HSE and UK Parliament who have pushed the most custom our way. In turn, ONS has passed on the most subscribers via the network to UK Parliament.

The more subscribers we have the more we will increase awareness of our outputs and traffic to the website, which goes a long way in managing our reputation. For us it was about choosing the right provider at the right time, understanding what our users wanted and what we wanted to achieve.

Over 2650 people now subscribe to this customised service which allows you to receive notices for specific themes, or for all ONS, that’s an increase of 130 percent in just 7 weeks.

Why not sign up yourself.

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